Tag Archives: Ngondro

Dharma Dance: Yumma Mudra

Rome 15th March 2014 Dance Tonight at Casa delle Culture Roma with the Great musician Oscar Bonelli, Carolina Fonseca, & Special Guests Yumma Mudra , and Abdeslam Michel Raji. Photos by ©Elio Castoria

Rome 15th March 2014 at Casa delle Culture Roma
Photos by ©Elio Castoria

Having been raised in USA, English is my first language.  I was only 3 years old when my mother used to bring me with her to concerts, theatre and movies.  We lived in Detroit Michigan.  My mother would have rather become an artist than a lonely mother at the young age of 18, so she always encouraged me to dance. That very soon became  my only obsession. For me, to dance all the time, I mean literally all the time, was the only way to feel close with some mysterious quest which I knew since childhood to be the reason why I was on this earth. I just had no idea at the time what that quest was about; and the world, from the perspective of TV and grown-up people, seemed to me some rare place to live in.

Dance made me feel I could understand the message of this mystery within me.

We came to France; and quickly at the age 13,  I became a professional dancer in the Ballet Russe Irina Grjebina. But the professional life of most artists is not that romantic:  and I felt very soon that my inner voice was not reciprocated by living this kind of life.

Image result for Ballet Russe Irina Grjebina.

I left home and school and dance for a lover.  I lived on the streets for 3 years. That was not the path either, but it gave me a perspective of “nowness”.

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Bodhicharya Summer Camp Community Ngöndro


Vila Verde, Portugal

A number of years ago while teaching on the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s shorter mahamudra text named ‘Pointing Out the Dharmakaya’, Ringu Tulku sowed the seeds for this year’s summer-camp topic, when he introduced the idea of group practice for accumulating merit.  He explained that one hundred people reciting the Vajrasattva mantra in unison, or at least together in one place and as part of a shared practice session,  the number of mantras recited would be multiplied for the benefit of each person in the room, according to how many are reciting. One mala of mantras recited by each person would count for 10,000 if we recited together as a group of one hundred.




In 2007, I had attended the annual Monlam teachings when His Holiness Karmapa had introduced a ‘Brief Preliminary Practice’ (Ngöndro ), and had received the transmission given especially for the use of Westerners who have ‘such busy lives and so little time’. It was the first time that His Holiness had ventured to speak in English to such a large gathering; he had expressed his nervousness at the task, and his delight at the ‘easy bit’ – the Vajrasattva Mantra.  This brief practice, he said, could be recited by Westerners in English, and each section was to be repeated only 10,000 times.

And so it happened: under the tutelage of Ringu Tulku, this year, we experimented, in a Christian monastery in the north of Portugal, to see if one complete Ngöndro might be completed by 150 people during 6 days of group practice. The concession of a brief text, in English, combined with help from 150 other people seemed like a very suitable arrangement, but with one adjustment.  Between us we were to complete a full 100,000 repetitions of each practice: contemplating the Four Thoughts and raising Bodhicitta, reciting the Refuge Prayer and doing Prostrations, practising Vajrasattva, making Mandala Offerings, and practising Guru Yoga.  For those of us with creaky bodies who had a hard time prostrating, these could be bartered for Mantras or Mandala Offerings, as no one was counting who did what as long as it was accomplished. It was a foolproof and authentic sangha support system!

Rinpoche has suggested that by approaching ngondro later on the Path, we are better prepared to benefit from doing so, because a novice practitioner often misses the point and becomes preoccupied with achieving the target numbers, a common mistake which can be a hindrance to furthering one’s understanding. Ngöndro is a means to purify karma- misguided or negative action – and in particular, prostrations engage with the natural tendency towards pride, often the least obvious klesha or obstacle to realisation, and the last one to fully purify on the path.

Ringu Tulku taught twice each day, morning and afternoon, giving instructions before  practice sessions.  To encourage us he  first he told the story of Patrul Rinpoche’s student who developed the ability for astral travel while in ngondro retreat.  It is said that Patrul Rinpoche’s own practice was Ngöndro , and he prostrated 100 times everyday for the whole of his life.   There are, according to Ringu Tulku, several ways to become a Buddha: by ripening your own qualities you will grow into buddhahood, but will not be recognised by others. Sakyamuni also taught that once a person develops their qualities they must continue and create a buddhafield wherein many more beings can benefit, and that will identify him or her as a Buddha. It is said that a person who practises the preliminaries will never be born into a lower realm, and the action of the week of practising together in this way would also create a permanent and positive link between us all.

Portugal in August is extremely warm, so prostrations were practised before breakfast, and dozens of us lined up along the cool corridors, (or, for the really wise with toughened knees, on cold marble floors that had the extra bonus of a polished surface).

It feels somewhat counter-productive and hard to justify, totting up repetitions to achieve daily targets, having been told that the quality of practise is primary if we are to fully benefit, and this is the downside of believing we should ‘complete’ a Ngöndro , but in the spirit of the week we set to and applied body and mind to that end. The days were full, and the usual socialising that happens over the retreat became less imperative as we engaged with the practice.  The mornings were spent in silence unless questions arose in the teaching sessions, the sun shone outside, the river flowed at the bottom of the hill, the usual pesky mosquitoes took a blessed holiday, perhaps busy with their own Ngöndro .  We ate three times a day and we practised, beginning at 7 am and finishing by 8 pm for supper. Each day numbers were handed in.  Francois oversaw the counting and the next day’s programme would be adjusted accordingly to ensure full quotas in all fields. There was concern that prostrations might lose out to Guru Yoga, or that we wouldn’t finish the Offering Mandalas,  and there was irritation when bare feet walked on hard uncooked saffron rice, or even worse, precious stones.

For the Guru Yoga we avidly recited Karmapa Khyenno, and reached double our quota in two sessions. Rinpoche feels that the wording to the prayer of the four kayas is just not inspiring enough in the way it is translated, and is hoping an aspiring poet will write a version that will do it justice, it seems the current translation is too literal and cumbersome, the Tibetan version is so beautiful.

Rinpoche gave wonderful teachings on Guru yoga, reminding us to remain intelligent and critical, to examine and wait and, if one’s personal teacher is not yet to be found, to consider looking to Vajradhara or Sakyamuni, because they will be the essence of your teacher when that person appears.  We may have many teachers, and each will feed into the other, but once the heart teacher is met it will be clear and the relationship and the progress on the path should flourish.

One evening, Rinpoche  gave a Vajrasattva empowerment coming from the Nyingma tradition, describing the deity embracing a consort: wisdom and skilful means in primordial union.  Giving a narrative alongside the liturgy, he built up the visualisation for us as he relayed the instruction, reminding us all the time that everything that arises through the visualisation is an aspect of our mind, nothing more. His description of the visualisation provided us with an exquisite and uncompromisingly clear understanding of the practice. At the finish, the room was quite silent, full of awe, expectant and wanting,  but he just he reminded us he was hungry.  It was time for supper.

vajrasatva image

Nyingma Vajrasattva

The final count for the week was impressive as all recitations were completed and there were plenty left over to make up for miscounts. We also managed to watch a documentary on Gene Smith, watch a gorgeous slide presentation on Rigul, from whence Francois has just returned with much news. Some gathered for stories and songs or walks to the river with Rinpoche, and we absorbed the incredible news that His Holiness Karmapa will visit Germany in three weeks time.

In the interest of future practice, in case anyone thinks they have completed Ngöndro – Ringu Tulku finished by simply saying that now we just know how to do it.

The Summercamp next year will again be at Vila Verde, the first week in August, and will be organised by Lama Tsultrim  and the Portugese Sangha, as Tsering Paldron enters retreat.



Annie Dibble is currently co-ordinator for Bodhicharya Ireland, and a Tara Rokpa Therapist. In another life she recently retired from teaching 3rd level art and design and is now working to create supportive links between weavers in India, Nepal and Dublin.




Summer Camp: Portugal



This was my first Summer camp with Ringu Tulku and I chose to attend for two reasons. The first was the wish to learn how to practice the Ngondro properly and the second because Ringu Tulku has proven to be a good teacher on other Dharma topics. The experience was amazing. The clarity of Rinpoche’s teaching from the powers of the Refuge Prayer to the line by line explanation of Guru Yoga has certainly given me a good understanding and I have confidence to continue the practice that my own teacher has asked me to practice. As part of the Retreat the aim was to reach 100,000 of each of the four parts of the Ngondro and I can still hear the sound of rice as it formed many Mandalas and as a group we achieved our blessings. The empowerment that drew the teaching to a close was exactly that – very powerful and ended with us all joining katas while holding candles as brothers and sisters in the Dharma. Add to that the beautiful Portuguese sunshine and the opportunity to practice in the sun, something those of us from Scotland have seen little of this year, a very busy and deeply meaningful retreat.                                                                                         Jenni Campbell


Ten days after the event my response to this year’s summercamp is mainly one of gratitude. Immense gratitude to Rinpoche, to Tsering and to Lama Tsultrim for facilitating a complete short Ngondro practice in one week and also indebtedness to the young, strong and energetic members of the group who managed to carry along with them those of us who are somewhat older and could only do our best. Back in London my wish is to stabilise all that I have received, integrate it into my practice, but first to learn off by heart the 100 syllable mantra that I had not come across before.                                                                            

Thus, I am to be seen on tubes and buses muttering mantras to myself, hoping other people think I am talking into an invisible mobile phone. This task seems to me to be of the utmost importance and serves to help me to stay in touch with the benefits of the Ngondro practices for all of Rinpoche’s sangha, both those who were at summer camp and everyone else too. Lynda Miller



You couldn’t say there was a best part of the Ngondro because the practice was so well delivered by Rinpoche La and so well paced and every part complemented the whole experience: a valuable practice of the interconnectedness of  Buddhist philosophy. Wandering through and around the grapevines reciting the vajrasattva 100-syllable mantra, the mandala offering, the prostrations and doing Guru Yoga all contributed to this unique experience.  On the last evening, the sangha consolidated the experience by joining katas and lighting candles.  

Thank you to Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Lama Tsultrim and Tsering Paldron for planning and facilitating this event.


My Experience of the Summer Camp

About the People…

I thought a week of closer proximity to Ringu Tulku might help me understand why he calls himself ‘the lazy lama’. It didn’t. Relaxed, yes, but lazy? Most important to me, he seemed congruent: what he taught, he embodied. His teaching was clear and accessible, presented with both strength and modesty. He revealed glimpses of his profound knowledge and awareness, and more than once I thought how tolerant he must be of the comparative ignorance of the rest of us. It was of enormous help to me that Rinpoche gave Ngondro teachings in a way that they were practical and relevant to our lives and our concerns. His humour helped: I found it healing to laugh with him and everyone else.

The ‘everyone else’ is significant, too. Not surprising, the robed and lay people who cherish Ringu Tulku seem refreshingly balanced. While the wide-ranging conversations I enjoyed with the ones I met were distracting because they evoked in me much reflection, they mostly were heart-warming and inspiring.

About the Practice…

For years I have found reasons and excuses to evade Ngondro practice – despite having attended teachings on Ngondro given by HE Tai Situpa at Samye Ling who taught that Ngondro practice is the portal to Mahamudra and despite knowing that positive repetition engenders positive change in the mind.

I registered for the 2015 summer camp with now-or-never resolve and with considerable trepidation. As the result of an ongoing family ordeal, I arrived at the camp too tired to ‘struggle’. “Don’t think about it, just do it,” I told myself. For the first couple of days, I could barely keep awake during the teachings and was glad for the helpful physical component of the practices. Being new among a diverse collection of people gave my sleepy mind abundant material for judgement, analysis, fantasy; and I observed it sluggishly moving in habitual ways, attempting to organise the sensory information I encountered in order to help me feel comfortable.

Gradually, I woke up a little and settled into the practice with genuine appreciation. I was able to notice the care with which the organisers had worked with Rinpoche in arranging for the texts, the translations, the structure. I felt the strong support of the practice of the ‘everyone else’. The mantra music in my head greeted me when I woke each morning and stayed with me throughout the day, and I welcomed stirrings of devotion. I felt an inner release when Ringu Tullku included the name of Akong Rinpoche, whom I had followed since the 1980’s, when he led us in singing the hauntingly lovely ‘Calling the Guru from Afar’ prayer.

I returned home less weary, and with the realisation that while a part of my mind had focused on the practice of Ngondro, something more subtle had taken place of which I had been unaware at the time. For example, I was astonished that the anxiety I had felt about a particular distressing situation somehow had evaporated. This reminded me that a most effective inspiration for more Dharma practice is practice!

See also Remembering Harry.